Burrell girls hoping for rematch against WPIAL champ Canevin
Using caution and confidence to weave through a fast-moving highway of older and more experienced playoff teams, the Burrell girls basketball team has removed the training wheels on its ride toward school history.
With only eight players — lone senior Jenna Ehrlich is injured and listed as a team manager — Burrell has, in some respects, defied odds by reaching the PIAA quarterfinals.
Playoff runs of the future were supposed to be set up by this year. But the Buccaneers (23-3), with a starting five that consists of three juniors, a sophomore and a freshman, are eager to keep winning — now.
It's all gravy from here.
“Every game is more experience that we didn't have,” freshman forward Natalie Myers said. “It's helping us.”
And every win pursues school history. Only Burrell's 1994 team had this much success. Those Bucs also lost in the district semifinals.
The current group, though, can raise the bar.
A win over District 10's Sharpsville Blue Darlings (18-8) in Tuesday night's state quarterfinals at Slippery Rock would break new ground for Burrell in the PIAA postseason.
The '94 Bucs won only one state playoff game. This year's team checked that off the list when it downed District 6 runner-up Bellwood-Antis, 65-46, Friday for its first state tournament win in nearly two decades.
A victory Tuesday also would tie the '94 team's school record for wins in a season with 24.
“We didn't know about (the record for wins),” sophomore guard Sydney Bordonaro said. “It would be nice to get that, but our motivation is (Bishop) Canevin. We came out so nervous in that game; we froze up. We know we can play with them. We want to play them again. We bring (the loss) up every day at practice.”
That's not to say Burrell is looking past the quarterfinals. Burrell knows it can't take Sharpsville lightly. The Blue Darlings have a talented forward in 5-9 McKenzie Popatak, who has scored 1,690 career points, and a shooter to watch in junior guard Megan Davis.
They haven't played this far into a season since 2002.
“We're grateful to be here and excited to keep working hard,” said Myers, who averages 11 points per game. “We have been in big games in AAU, so we feel like we have been around that kind of pressure before.”
Wins by Bishop Canevin (23-4) and Burrell on Tuesday will set up a rematch on Friday night.
“I still have a knot in my stomach from that game,” Bordonaro said. “We were so upset. I had my mom buy the picture of me (looking dejected) from the newspaper and I framed it and put it in my room.”
Future photos, Bordonaro hopes, are all smiles, hugs and high-fives.
Said Myers: “We never want to feel that way again.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.